General Jean-Louis Georgelin passed away on Friday, August 18, after a mountain fall in the Ariège region, according to the gendarmerie.
For those who knew him, his demise in the mountains mirrors a life oriented towards the peaks, always. He, who had joined our ranks as a teenager at the Saint-Cyr military academy, rose through the ranks to the highest responsibilities under the uniform, serving as Chief of Staff to President Jacques Chirac and later as Chief of the Defense Staff from 2006 to 2010. In this role, he brought unprecedented significance and commanded France’s foreign operations, including missions in Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Lebanon, ensuring peace, the defense of our values, and international stability. Within the Legion of Honor, he achieved the highest rank of Grand Chancellor. Everywhere, he left the image of a man of duty, universally respected for his unwavering integrity and radical freedom.
Generations of officers, especially the Saint-Cyrien class he had trained, the “Cadets of Free France,” remember his eloquence, his strength, and his booming voice resonating with a profound sense of the homeland that he knew how to transmit to them. He was a driving force that was moving forward. However, this imposing force concealed an exceptional sensitivity and refinement in culture. His self-mastery could not prevent tears from welling up in his eyes when the vaults of Notre-Dame’s transept were rebuilt last winter; the emotion was so profound.
He had been entrusted with the mission of reconstruction following the fire in April 2019, and he undertook it with his enduring ardor, undaunted by the task of restoring 42,000 square meters of vaults and walls, using 1,200 oaks for the new framework, and working within tight deadlines.
He dedicated all his energy and being to restore the place to its incomparable historical significance and spiritual beauty. Relaunching Notre-Dame’s spire towards the sky carried a dual importance and an intensified urgency for his soul as a man of faith and his heart as a Frenchman. “To live on the surface will, in its time, punish you for having ignored the future that always inherits.” He liked to repeat this phrase by Sertillanges, and he turned the reconstruction into an exceptional and exemplary project, both in its tone and its purpose. He infused it with a pride and joy that he knew how to share with the French people: thanks to him, anyone can walk on the square amidst a fantastic gallery of sculptures, where the living heritage of artisans blends with the heritage of stone.
He resurrected the buried know-how of past centuries and valued the treasure trove of skills from our small enterprises to work with lead, wood, stone, and glass just as the cathedral’s original builders did. The President of the Republic and his spouse, with deep sorrow, extend their condolences to his family, loved ones, comrades in arms, and all those involved in the restoration of Notre-Dame, whom he was able to unite and inspire.
General Georgelin will never see with his own eyes the reopening of Notre-Dame to the French, an accomplishment he was an incomparable architect of. However, on December 8, 2024, he will be present with us at its reopening in a different way, in the emotion we owe him, in the gratitude we will feel towards his work, and in the communion with the same ideals against which death has no power.